Archives for posts with tag: fine art

IMG_3328sm
Spot Photo Works, the new Los Angeles based, contemporary photography gallery started by myself and Russell Adams, will be occupying most of the corners and curves of my mind in its first year. I’ll still be doing some freelance editing and mentoring, but for the most part my writing is going the way of the gallery and you can find me holding forth to that end on the Spot Photo Works Facebook page and on Spot’s blog.

Chris Anthony's series "Seas Without A Shore" opens November 15th.  Pictured:  Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony

Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony from his upcoming exhibition, “Seas Without A Shore.”

 

Spot’s first year of artists include: Dennis DeHart, Victory Tischler-Blue, Chris Anthony, Gregg Segal, H. Lee, Robert Harding Pittman, J.K. Lavin and Todd Weaver. We’re excited and we hope you visit.

I’m wrapping up jurying for Critical Mass and I’ll be reviewing portfolios at Photo Lucida in Portland in the Spring. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there. I’m also judging a yet to be announced competition for the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. I may also get inspired to write here on occasion and if time allows perhaps I’ll be able to pull on the threads of my own art making as well.  If so, I’ll keep you posted if anything juicy comes of it.

In the meantime find me at Spotphotoworks.com or at Spot’s Facebook page. Be well. Be in touch. Be inspired.

Advertisements

“Departure,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

My mother died a few days before Christmas last year.  She had a long period of the kind of limbo dementia causes and in the last couple of years dialogue wasn’t really possible except between my brothers and I as we recalled every bit of family nostalgia.  Since our father had passed away in 1996, thoughts of them both along with other relatives, living and dead, began to swirl around in my head. My youngest brother had dreams filled with dead relatives.  We’re not religious people so we processed the partings with reminiscence and appreciation and wine.

I began the series, “The Living,” as something of a tribute or reliquary to essential things learned from my parents and family.  In searching for family icons, I quickly realized much of what was most meaningful was botanical.   Both sides of our family evolved from farmers. Our grandparents grew huge gardens with strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, and my Father followed suit with impressive gardens of his own, even though he wore a suit and tie to his job every day.   Mom channeled her considerable creative energy into an ever evolving array of complex craft projects and wonderful cooking and I spent much of my childhood staring at the sky, mowing the lawn, listening to the leaves rustle and pruning lemon trees.

Constructing sets or tableaux of some type has long been a part of my art practice and I chose to both construct as well as alter environments. The sets were then combined with found and organic elements, which I then photographed.  The concept evolved from what I considered to be a very personal insular project to one that embraced larger, more universal gifts of living.  In visually exploring my simple surroundings and playing with gravity and stillness and shadow and light, I experienced a profound appreciation of the esthetic magic of nature and its immediate ties to home and memory.  I expect I’ll continue working on this series at least through the end of this year.

“Inheritance,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Guardian” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Aloft,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Cream,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“February,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Seascape,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Sweet on You,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Lemon Blossom,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Easy Going,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Sun Dress,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Sweet Thing,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Right Tool,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Importance of Pie,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Cherries,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Rolling Pin,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Straight Off The Vine,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Flight Lesson,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“A Perfect Peach,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“The Dandy,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Satin Doll,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Thanksgiving,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Denouemont,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Three,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Persimmon Leaf,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Lifespan of Citrus,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Lit from Within,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

“Natural Magic,” from “The Living” (c)2012, Kathleen Clark

The Valley, (c) Kelli Connell

Kelli Connell’s series “Double Life” seemed special enough when I first saw it online, but I had the sense that comes with website viewing that I’d already seen the pictures.  So why bother attending the physical exhibition?   Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I dropped by Kopeikin Gallery on a weekday.

I wondered whether the photographs might gain something by hanging on the wall?  I should say that this question wasn’t really aimed at Kelli Connell’s work specifically, but really at all photographic work of late. I’d been feeling a creeping sense of image burnout on and off for the last few years.  Professional photo editors see hundreds if not thousands of photographs each week.   In fine art, it’s not much different. The bounty of work available to be seen online along with the sheer numbers of active photographers can sometimes have a numbing effect on the viewer. Keeping abreast of beloved work prior to living life on a desktop was manageable enough with part of my brain devoted to Duane Michaels and Judy Dater, and part of it to Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn and Mary Ellen Mark.  There were many others of course, but the point being, it wasn’t all that crowded a field.

Websites for editorial and advertising photographers offer an instant reference for those in a position to assign or buy photography.  It’s a good thing.  For fine art photography, the net seems to me to walk the fine line of being friend and foe.  While it expands opportunities for awareness and outreach, it also risks a sense of  “been there, done that”.  It’s always been a good idea to put a strong image on an invitation, make a couple of images available to the press and hold tight to the rest of the work to give people something fresh to see at exhibition. Seeing work on the wall is seduction after all.  It’s difficult to feel the pull of the words “buy me” when it comes to art that you only experience in the condensed format of a computer screen.  When we have the opportunity to see every image in a series prior to the show, it diminishes one’s desire to change out of our sweatpants and drive across town for an opening.  We lose that wonderful sense of discovery.

Ponder, (c) Kelli Connell

In spite of all that, it was with great pleasure that I found myself in a room full of Connell’s images.    The dozen or so prints were all pictures I had seen before, yet somehow they moved me in a way I hadn’t experienced in prior small version looks.  Seeing a beautifully crafted photograph, equally well framed is a nicer experience than seeing it with menu bars and a multitude of files on my desktop.  I must remember this.

Immediately I was reminded of another simple fact.  Seeing art in an empty room without the opening crowd can be a wonderful thing.  I was alone here except for Mr. Kopeikin and he was occupied on the phone. I could actually consider the images in peace.

Trying to put two and two together is a pleasure and sometimes a challenge in art and while I like to eventually read the artist’s statement, I always feel like I’ve cheated and looked at the answers before reading the questions if I read it first.  In this case I was glad that I hadn’t read Connell’s statement or any interviews before seeing the work.

Lucky Lou's, (c) Kelli Connell

There have been volumes of compelling work made based on sexual identity: photographs, films, videos and mixed media work in the last twenty odd years including many works by my former school mates and friends from Cal Arts, UC Irvine and UCLA, such as John Di StefanoTammy Rae Carland, Catherine Opie, Millie Wilson, Keith Mayerson, and even by myself.   I pretty much walked away from the topic years ago feeling it had run its course for me at the time.

Young photographers like Kelli Connell find their own routes of exploration, however, and her subjects are depicted with a gentle subtlety.  Each nuanced frame makes a look at a relationship in an everyday life.  The normalcy of the images is their beauty.  Simple arrangements of two women in very utilitarian locations – a couple, but they are an identical duo.  Are they lovers?  Are they identical twins? They appear to be quietly engaged in the details of their lives, two sides of one coin. Bits of gendered behaviors show, but quietly.  I think I tired of the heavy-handedness of the genre in the past, but Connell’s compositions are elegantly balanced and her subjects low-key.  They’re a relief from so much posing in the world.  These are posed, but they just don’t feel like it.  They’re not dogmatic. Her technical skill is flawless and while I’m not generally one to give away the ending before you’ve had a chance to see the film, much has already been written about her casting a friend to play both roles in the relationship.  Connell masters the images together in an ultimate Photoshop embrace.

Convertible Kiss, (c) Kelli Connell

I tried to fathom how it was possible to weave the two versions of her model so seamlessly given the connectedness of the couple.  It only made sense once I read that Kelli Connell herself serves as a stand in or placeholder for one side of the two characters.  This way an embrace feels like an embrace.  More important than Photoshop technique is the way in which Connell filling this role affects the images.  She is in the images and she’s not.  She’s there in the ether.  Her presence appears to make up for her absence in that she occupies the heart and soul of the work, including the minor details: a thumb hooked into a blue jean pocket, a hand cups an ear and the nape of a neck.  “What is really recorded on the film is our interaction together.”

This is solidly beautiful work.  It’s both portraiture and performance. Poetic and banal in the way that real life can be.

Carnival, (c) Kelli Connell

Many years ago I was lucky enough to hear a lecture by the late film historian Vito Russo in which he spoke of wanting to see the day in which gay films didn’t have to constantly deal with coming out, or with characters being killed off for that matter.  He longed for the day when the fact of a character’s queerness wasn’t even mentioned.  They merely existed within the context of a story.  Just like straight characters existed.  They did other things, lived their lives, had relationships, had jobs, were heroes or just regular people.

Kelli Connell’s images do just that.  They live their filmic lives.

Brickhaus Cafe, (c) Kelli Connell

Connell has fielded the question of whether the series has run its course since she began it in 2002.  Artists periodically ask themselves what’s next when consumed by a long body of work.   It is a question only time and the photographer herself will discover.  While I would be fascinated to see what an entirely new body of work might be, it is equally compelling to consider the idea of continuing along this path, allowing her subjects to continue to play out their relationship as we continue to follow along. Rarely in photography do we have the opportunity to see characters develop, change, age and transition in their fictional lives over a long period of time.  When it happens, it’s a rare and special thing.

Kelli Connell’s “Double Life” shows at Kopeikin Gallery, 2766 Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles through April 14, 2012 with J Bennett Fitts “8 Dead Palm Trees.”

She also has work in “Contemporary Queer Photography” at Photo Center NW in Seattle, April 6th through May 12th with a lecture April 13th at 6:30 pm.

Ed and Tina's Farmhouse, Los Angeles, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Many things in Los Angeles are reminiscent of the classic Western movie façade.  A willing suspension of disbelief allows us to imagine all sorts of fictions.  No stranger to a rapid pace lifestyle, intense work pressures and mind-numbing gridlock, longtime residents know the importance of finding their spot: a place to take shelter, to make a little green, to calm down.  It’s important.  We live in something of an illusion if we can find it.  On one side, our particular oasis borders a strip of tired old apartment buildings and newer, shoddily constructed condominiums.  The area was once low farmland fed by the runoff from the Hollywood Hills.  It had moisture the rest of the city didn’t have.  Plants were meant to grow here.

A Screen Door Sounds Like Summer, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

The neighborhood’s south and west sides have lovely 1920s homes with ample yards, protected by zoning that is dedicated to the single family home.  Sadly, to the north and east, the buffer of homes that stand between opportunistic development and us, is getting smaller.  As it turned out, our side of the street is zoned for both single family and multiple units. A multiple tenant building in the 1920s meant a quaint Spanish duplex, whereas now it can easily refer to a 20-unit complex of dubious design with twice that number of cars owned by its inhabitants.  When we fell in love with this house, the fluttering leaves out each and every window seduced us away from concerns about the clutter to the north.  The zoning wasn’t something we focused on, although for years we’ve directed visitors to drive here through the prettier route.  Unfortunately, growth is now encroaching and it’s not the growth of gardens, but of more cement, rebar, and lots and lots of stucco.

Up until now we sat in our house and faced away from it all.  We were able to maintain something of an illusion of spaciousness, of a natural world – the mirage of a better reality, right in the middle of the city.

The land where our house now rests is located just below the bottom left corner of this 1923 photograph of Los Angeles. Farmland covered the middle of the photograph with oil rigs dotting the fields at the Gilmore Ranch a couple of miles north and the closest developed neighborhoods nestling the Hollywood Hills at the top of the frame.

It’s amazing how a sense of calm can be immediately altered with a single phone call.  It’s not as though someone died or was harmed, thankfully, but for a household whose members have each moved enough for a lifetime, our sense of feeling settled down was tremendously altered.

The voice on the telephone said he was with a development company.  He spoke of other projects his company constructed, but wasn’t specific.  The website for the company showed grandiose condominiums – shiny steel and glass.  He offered to buy our house and would pay in cash.  First came the carrot and then, the stick.  His plan was to demolish and build a condominium of unspecified size, upon our lot.  When we recovered from the shock at the thought, we asked if keeping the house and moving it to a new location was an option.  He had no objection, yet there is so little available vacant land in the city, that the proposition of moving it would be unrealistic.

One Hundred Years, Kathleen Clark (c) 2011

How ironic to think of the house moving once again.  Ed and Tina, our 90-year-old neighbors across the street tell us of hearing an incredible rumbling one day 32 years ago.  Walking out onto their lawn they saw our little old house rolling down the street on the bed of a truck.  Their home is the first on the street, built in the early 20s when only a few farmhouses sat near Ballona Creek (now a paved viaduct).  They compliment us on the new green we used to paint the house and tell us how fond they are of looking out to the sycamore trees as they go out to fetch their newspaper each day.  I can’t imagine inflicting their last days with the unsightly view of an enormous condominium complex, not to mention the cutting down of the trees and demolition that would accompany it.

Pepper Tree, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Since that phone call, we’ve gained some information but remain confused.  Not having the heart to sell our wonderful home to developers, it took no time at all to decide it wasn’t an option.  We could not willingly subject our surrounding neighborhood to the monstrosity that would surely be built and we couldn’t live with ourselves if we destroyed the spirit of this sweet house.  It’s also not possible to replace this kind of ambiance, within our means, in the city.

Apparently, the owners of the rental house next door got the call as well, and the fact that they haven’t returned our calls has us spooked.  We don’t know if any of the other five houses left on the block received calls and consequently, we don’t know if people in them have made decisions.  The chance to sell out in a diminished housing market may be tempting to some, while the potential to weaken the value of our investment is something we can’t afford to ignore, even if the light is pretty and the trees are tall.  We may find ourselves forced to offer the house for a regular sale to a person who wants the house in spite of the potential for a 3-story condo next door.  Even writing that makes me feel like a traitor.

Australian Tea Tree, Kathleen Clark (2011)

Not wanting to leave, we research options for trees that grow quickly, that won’t spread too widely and have non-invasive root systems.  We think of planting in strategic locations and staying put.  Then we remember all the cars and all the sounds and all the smells that would accompany a multi-unit building next door.  The sounds of construction and later of arguments and loud music where there have never been any.  The smell of cigarettes and bacon that would surely find their way into our windows make me want to bolt.  I don’t know the answer yet.  It may be that another home would be as inspirational as this one.  Staying or leaving – it’s a gamble either way.  Ultimately it’s difficult to imagine finding another place with such a long glistening throw of light as this one offers.

Above the Table, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I was photographing the house, its grounds and light long before the developer’s call and continuing to do so feels empowering.  The work was shifting along the way, becoming more abstract.  I’m not sure what role that telephone call played in making the black and white images – possibly a need to isolate an essential element of this place.  The botanical shadows were included in many of the color photos, but the emphasis on shadows rather than on the light itself was a subtle change.  I don’t consider them darker or more sinister but perhaps they are in certain images.  Maybe it’s just seeing the whole picture this time.  I’ve always had a tendency, when others are admiring a sunset, to look the other way.  It’s my contrary nature I suppose, but I just really love the way everything looks when it’s bathed in the light falling at the end of the day.

Hummingbird's Rest, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

If, in the end, we decide to move on, I want a full recording of what happened here in September and December and April and July.  The light and all its changes of angle allow for different photographs every day.  Most of them I do not take.  Generally, I think the camera gets in the way of a lot of experience and I think taking it in is important in life.  For every image I grasp with my camera, a hundred more are embedded in my mind, generally the place where the best photographs live.

Summer Fruit, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Uplift, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Spring in the World, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

January Silhouette, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Sycamore, The Crow's Perch, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

While I set out to write about urban development, I could not get there without writing about home, art, and working process.   Part 2 will address issues I could not cover in this writing;  issues dealing with photography, development and environment, but first things first.

Part 1:

It was love at first sight.  The little old house had our names all over it.  I did a double take as I drove past, in disbelief over the depth of the lot.  The giant flat yard had dozens of shade trees and I recall writing the word “perfect” in the margins of my newspaper clipping from the real estate section.

The house has served us well over the last seven years and we have done our best to shore up her tired spots, keeping true to the spirit of the house’s design.  When the painters were stripping off the old exterior paint a year ago to repaint, they coincidentally found the same cheerful green we had just purchased, already there on the bottom layer – the house’s original color.  In our city, a house built in 1919 is a rare survivor.   In fact, it was spared the wrecking ball some 30 odd years ago and moved from a neighborhood a few miles away when that neighborhood faced development.  It’s not the only old house in Los Angeles, but it’s ours.

Evening Porch, Kathleen Clark (c)2011

Blue Porcelain & Crape Myrtle

Entry with Sycamore, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

In the last few years, working from home, I began to feel this house saved me.  After years of working in large creative groups, the shift to working in solitude was a bit of a shocker.  I had worked so much, that I often wasn’t home long enough or in daylight hours to really experience the pleasures of what  92 years of good craftsmanship had to offer.  Los Angeles is known for it’s harsh angular light.  In fact, exterior photographs taken in LA. often have little graphically in common with photos from New England, for example.  In Southern California, there is more contrast, more extremity.  In New England, there are more middle values.  Ironically, that relates as much to the culture and nature of the two places as to their photogenic character.

After living in ten different L.A. locations over the last 22 years, the light in this house, and around it, is special.  It made working on the photo gallery more pleasurable.  The house itself takes up only a third of the corner property so the land accommodates some thirty trees – sycamore, birch, apricot, grapefruit, persimmon, crape myrtle, lemon, avocado, pepper, eucalyptus, all of which allow the most flickery, gentle light.  If the sun is out, it feels like everyone’s idea of California here.  Minus the surfers and ocean view.  The inside of the house has pretty much the same quality of light with an abundance of original 9×11 blown glass windowpanes.  Old, rattling panes are anything but energy efficient, but for one, who apparently lives for light, it is heavenly.

Sitting Room, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Honeycrisp at Sundown, Kathleen Clark (c) 2011

In my years of editing photography in journalism, I stopped making art.  My last exhibition closed a month before I took my first publication job and as a result, art died on the spot.  I’m not saying that I stopped taking pictures, but as my primary task was assignment editing and concept development, making photographs was secondary.  While I took many in service of my publications, they were made specifically to fill editorial orders.  It was fun and it was creative, but it wasn’t art.

It’s amazing how things start to come back as soon as there’s a little space.  I had new ideas within weeks away from the job.  I started one series and left it midway, doubting its efficacy, but I know now that it’s something I’ll get back to.  I began to see things at home that I found myself isolating in new ways.  The magic of this place is worth noting largely because it allowed me to find my way back to the love of making images.  It took a year and a half to take picture making seriously and actually consider it a body of work.  Rust takes a long while to chip off.  I’ve only mentioned it to a few people, only shown it to two of my closest friends, and still I have little desire to jump into the fray of struggling for outward attention or reward.  Although here I am, writing about it.

Rose Colored Glass, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Slats and Beams, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I mentioned the fact that I was making new photographic work to Chris Rauschenberg as we walked across Santa Fe during the recent photo reviews.  I’m not sure why.  He’s someone I knew only peripherally when I lived in Portland, but I think perhaps, because we knew each other as young artists, I felt at ease in sharing it with him.  I’d kept the art making pretty private until then.  Somehow speaking of it seemed like a big deal.  When I said it was good to be working but I had no plans of showing work, he asked why not?  I realized I didn’t have a reason, but maybe I’d have to work a while and see what comes.

Black Bird of Paradise, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

I used to believe that making art without audience was narcissistic. But that was in the ‘80s and ’90s and much of the most exciting art was based in activism.  Activism is nothing without audience.  Years later, I find I need beauty and nature to take the edge off a rough, exacting world.  My hesitance or indifference, until now, to expose myself to the rigors of public scrutiny has as much to do with a belief the work is in progress and needs to find its way as it does in the simple fact that I’ve spent so much energy putting others into the spotlight rather than myself.  Ultimately though, the pleasure of making art may well surpass anything it’s outward presentation could hope to achieve.  The process really does matter and I’m not sure I care to mess that up, yet I am sharing a few images here, as it’s only right.

Japanese Maple and Birch, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

People often ask what I’m doing.  Even when we opened the gallery, they asked what else I was working on, as if it wasn’t enough to organize exhibitions.  Money is the great legitimacy, I suppose.  I try to think of it as necessity not legitimacy, but I live in the world and it is more challenging now to feel legitimate without earning a good deal.  I do find writing gratifying and while I write about myself now, I will continue writing about the work of others later on. I’m certain that at some point I’ll find another outlet for larger interests and presentation of work by other artists. Now that my gallery is closed and assignment editing is in the past, I search to find that next thing.  It often occurs to me, however, that the new thing may well be the old thing – the illusive making of art.

Blenheim Apricot, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Meanwhile, the light at my house keeps teaching me new lessons.  One body of work seems to lead to another and even though it’s far from the conceptual work I did in the ’80s and ’90s, it has visual links to both those periods and most importantly to my family and its collective love of gardens.  My son once asked me how I could possibly know the identity and names of so many trees.  I replied that I certainly don’t know the names of most trees but that the ones I do know came from having heard my parents and grandparents as they looked fondly upon a pink blooming Mimosa or the screaming red fruit of a Sour Cherry tree.  It’s one of the best things I inherited, which gives me the most pleasure.  I try to point out to him that the amazing fragrance he loves in the summer night air is Orange blossom, that the sweet scent will soon be sweet fruit.  Even as I say it, I realize I am repeating my mother’s words and I see in my mind the still photo memory of the grove across the street as my family moved into another old house in another old California town when I was fifteen.

Eucalyptus, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Memory, photographs and gardens are inexorably linked for me and while the new work will run its course at some point, this muse, this old house has allowed me to find an inroad to art and a connection to the past and present.  It has reminded me of important things, deeply rooted familial history and the simple pleasure of lying on the grass, looking skyward or watching a beam of light move across a room, spotlighting the most mundane of things as they become objects of reverence.

Apricot, Kathleen Clark, (c) 2011

Our House, Part 2, will follow

"American Girl Doll" from "Glass Ceiling" by Jill Greenberg

In conjunction with the Annenberg Space for Photography’s exhibition, Beauty Culture, Jill Greenberg was recently asked to speak about her work.  Greenberg is one of the few photographers whose professional career straddles the worlds of editorial, advertising and fine art with a remarkable amount of balance.  After working with her on a range of editorial assignments including portraits of actors, air-borne fashion and some of the baddest pictures of cheerleaders ever, I’ve had a unique vantage point to observe her career. Not only is Greenberg one of the most focused, hard-working photographers out there, but she is also a witty collaborator, with a dry sense of humor and an unrelenting drive to make the strongest work possible.  She could always be relied upon to bring her best to any job and generally make me laugh in the process.  In spite of the fierce commitment it takes to compete in magazine and ad work, Greenberg’s dedication to building and expanding her body of creative personal work is equally driven.  Utilizing the many skills attained on commercial shoots Greenberg has created a signature lighting style uniquely her own.  So much so, that simple Internet searches of her name can turn up an array of young photographers struggling to emulate the Greenberg lighting.

Greenberg's UCLA v. USC for Los Angeles magazine

Greenberg photographed Glenn Beck in a tizzy for GQ.

Mr. Stewart goes to Washington via Jill Greenberg's TV Guide cover.


The assignment fulfilled by Greenberg.

The former candidate as horror show.

Yet few photographers have sparked the vitriol that Greenberg incurred when she acted upon her political beliefs while photographing then-GOP Presidential candidate John McCain for The Atlantic.  Her sinister, bottom-lit portraits were ultimately edited into vampiric, blood-dripping illustrations, alluding to McCain’s ties to a war-hungry regime, questionable ethics and less-than-honorable tactics to win the election at any cost.  I recall the excitement expressed by Greenberg’s assistant as we waited for actor Richard Jenkins to arrive for a shoot the day after the McCain session. He couldn’t believe they were allowed to get these shots after finishing the portraits intended for the magazine.  After all, any kid with a flashlight knows what happens when you put the light facing up below your chin.

In my experience, every celebrity photographer is hovered over.  Publicists do their damnedest to control shoots to prevent any real editorial opinion from forming in a portrait of their client.  To a large extent, it has gone too far and often backfires into a portrait that could have been stronger had the photographer had his or her way with things.  I also know that certain assurances or trusts are generally made or assumed and no self-respecting publicist would have allowed their client a single minute with the kind of lighting used on the McCain shoot.  They fell asleep on the job, apparently.

When the altered images were published weeks later and I found myself treading along in the swell of America’s economic sinkhole, I welcomed the low blow when Greenberg posted her images on the net.  Of course they plunged into comic–book depths, but on the other hand, my economic-crisis-induced layoff from editorial made me less than sympathetic to the plight of either McCain or any magazine for that matter.   While I would not have allowed a subject to be duped in this way had I supervised that shoot, I no longer had to maintain a journalistic objectivity.  I welcomed the rabble-rousing.  Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

One of the additional shot opportunities was from the simple act of a misfired strobe.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of hateful speech posted in online forums by some photographers (and I’m not referring to the Fox mouthpieces).  I’d spent my career looking after the interests of photographers and I was always surprised by the ease in which they quietly rolled over to sign away rights in order to get the big picture.  I honestly had been too busy working to notice how low people would stoop and how loudly.  The resentment and loathing expressed toward Jill Greenberg for getting the unthinkable shot was palpable.  It was more than just the perceived abuse of her photographic opportunity that was in the air.  Responses reeked of jealousy.  The girl is ruining it for the rest of us.  How dare she.  Photography is a competitive business and there are too many trying to make their living from a small pool of work and very few in the upper tiers of editorial and advertising photography were women.  While Greenberg crossed a line on her Atlantic  editorial assignment, the reaction among photographers seemed personal – like the way some white men reacted to losing a college placement to an African-American through affirmative action policies.  Jill just pissed them off.  She had work they didn’t have, did it better than many, and now had the nerve to cross a line and make it more difficult for them.  She was a lightning rod.

When speaking with Greenberg recently regarding this article, she mentioned a few significant notes regarding her contract with Atlantic:   “I was shooting for free-no fee, just expenses.  I own my images.  I had a two-week domestic embargo, and no international embargo.  I always post images and even outtakes on my site once the magazine has hit stands.  Embargos don’t apply to photographers’ websites and there was nothing in the contract to indicate I could not post them.  Further, the contract said, and this was a totally new one to me:  ‘you will use your best efforts to publicize this shoot.’  The fact that they did a major redesign which launched the month after the McCain issue, is somewhat suspicious.  Before my shoot, brand awareness was close to nil for them.  The scandal that they inflated (but not simply stating that I was a freelancer, who owns my images, acting independently and within my legal rights) drew 1,000,000 hits to their site that week.”

"Torture" (2005) from End Times

Greenberg encountered similar volatile reactions to her earlier body of fine art work.  The simple act of taking a lollipop from a child incurred fits of tears and the sobbing children of End Times became a metaphor to express so many feelings of a failing world.  While the lollipop explanation was enough for me to diminish any abusive concerns, it was barely a speed bump for the cranky masses just looking for excuses to write reams of loathing letters to the artist.   All this anger seems to follow Greenberg around like a shadow.

When I learned of Jill’s scheduled talk at the Annenberg Center on June 2, 2011, I was disappointed that I would be unable to attend.  Knowing Jill, I thought it might turn out to be more complex than the Annenberg or anyone in the audience would anticipate and I asked her if I might use her notes for an article here. She complied.  In the following passages Jill Greenberg discusses critical theory, feminism, and her many accomplished bodies of photographic work.  It’s thought provoking stuff, refreshingly honest, bold and surely controversial.

Jill Greenberg speaking at The Annenberg Space for Photography, Century City, California.

Jill Greenberg’s Annenberg talk:

I am pleased to be invited to speak on the occasion of the Beauty Culture exhibition.  Thank you to everyone at the Annenberg, for inviting me here tonight.  I do have to ask:  who is my audience that snatched up all these tickets in 3 minutes flat?  If it’s photo nerds, just so you know, this talk will barely discuss technique.  And no, feminism is NOT a Photoshop filter nor is the panopticon the latest digital back.

"The Female Object," 1989, still from multimedia slide show

So as it happens, the subject ostensibly at hand was also the subject of my senior thesis at RISD in 1989.  It was called “The Female Object” and it consisted of a multitrack recording and a multiple projector slide show as well as an installation of mural C-prints.  I will show some of it but unfortunately it’s not in great condition.  I provided the voice of a fictitious female narrator.  I adjusted the pitch so that I would sound like Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl.  I went on about how if I fixed my body then I would have control of my life; that I wanted to devote myself to controlling my appetite and shrinking my body.  There were staged photographs of my art school friends in various states of anguish about their bodies.  In some cases I projected images onto them.  This worked well visually as well as conceptually to show society’s acceptable images projected onto their bodies.  My father is an eye doctor so I raided his file of diseased eye slides and projected them, lined up with the areolas of my model’s breasts.  It appeared that the male gaze was toxic and eating away at the female flesh.  The eerie pounding music I mixed into the soundtrack was mid 80s art-electronica –Chris and Cosey, formerly of Throbbing Gristle, which added to the surreal and horrific relentlessness of the work.

Slide shows had been a favorite medium of mine since high school when I did one called Photophobia using Cabaret Voltaire as the soundtrack.  In the female object, a male narrator announced, “in contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women, woman lives her body as seen by another, an anonymous patriarchal other.  She stands perpetually before his gaze and under his judgment.”

A panopticon prison.

My studies led me to the amazing book Feminism and Foucault written and edited by Sandra Lee Bartky, and her essay in which she discussed the panoptical and self-policing nature of women’s internalized male gaze. The panopticon prison was a circular shaped structure where the inmates had windows on two sides, the central guard tower could see into the prison cells at any time, and therefore the prisoners had to assume that they were always being watched and modified their own behavior, policing themselves..

These discussions have been going on at least since the 1970s, initially in the work of Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem and in the ‘80s with Susan Brownmiller.  In the early ‘90s, Naomi Wolf wrote The Beauty Myth.  The basic premise of The Beauty Myth continued Bartky’s argument, positing that unconscious forced adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women as they gained power in other arenas.  In the book, Wolf argued that “beauty” as a normative value is entirely socially constructed, and that the patriarchy determines the content of that construction with the goal of reproducing its own hegemony.

For Crest, Greenberg created faux perfection

The work I did for my thesis informs everything I do.  As someone with a parallel career in commercial photography and art, I am often assigned to shoot women, and I don’t even need to be told to retouch them.  I just do it.  I suppose I am a self-policing photographer?  I shoot models and actresses and retouch them to make them look even thinner, younger looking, and more impossibly beautiful.  Everyone in this room knows, or should know, that photographs, even “documentary photography” doesn’t represent the truth, any more than my glossiest and most retouched image.  Images have jobs to do:  sell us a product, make us feel bad about ourselves so we can go buy something to make us feel better, or tell a slanted story about who a person is.

Carlos Ghosn for Conde Nast's story, photographed by Jill Greenberg

For this shot I was flown to Tokyo by Conde Nast, for a three-minute photo shoot with Carlos Ghosn.  We needed to do three different set-ups, and at least one of them needed to make him look like a murderer.  The article was called Speed Kills.  He is the CEO of Renault Nissan and apparently such a tyrant that many of his employees have killed themselves.

The nature of photography is that the subjective taker of the photo composes, lights, and subsequently edits from hundreds if not thousands of images to convey the exact story he or she wants to tell.  There is an implied veracity in photography, but this is wrong.  Especially these days: a single image can be made up of multiple shots of one person “frankensteined” together to create an extra perfect and completely unnatural representation.  Further, the angle, the point of view, from which the photo is taken, is of the utmost importance. Photograph someone from below and they are powerful and heroic. From above and they are weak and passive.  I don’t have images shot from above since I very rarely do this.  I like making people look heroic.  Everyone and every thing photographed becomes objectified, passive, and visually ownable.

Lindsay Lohan, Rashida Jones and Janelle Monae after their Jill Greenberg retouch.

What are we to make of this?  What can we do?  We need to educate everyone, most importantly little girls, that nothing in the glossy women’s magazines represents reality and that it’s futile to compare ourselves to them.  Would an average guy reading Sports Illustrated feel bad about themselves when learning of a top athlete’s successes?  I don’t think so.  I truly love photographing beautiful people, despite the inherent contradictions between some of my beliefs and some of my creative output.  I am very aware that the representation of “perfection” comes with lots of baggage, but it’s exciting and personally rewarding to make beautiful images and I am happy to it for a living.  By the time I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a photographer and artist.  Originally I thought I would be an illustration major. I have been drawing and photographing since I was very young.  In fact one of my first photos that I took at summer camp while in 4th grade was an underlit flashlight shot of my friend Linda. I guess I never got the under lighting thing out of my system.

"Glare" from the Monkey Portraits by Jill Greenberg.

As for the animals… In 5th grade we got a puppy named Plato, and he was my muse.  I used to stage elaborate tableaus where he looked drunk with those little airplane liquor bottles.  For portraits I used Vaseline on the lens to achieve a vignette effect.  I also used to draw horses obsessively.  I sculpted them out of clay, did cast wax horses, photographed my model horses, and even rode horses at riding camp for a summer.  The animal work has continued.

"Anxious" from Greenberg's "Monkey Portraits."

"Untitled #11" from Jill Greenberg's series "Ursine."

"Untitled #8" from "Ursine"

I’ve been working on a series of horses for a book for Rizzoli for the past year.  I had originally associated horses with the male physique, with their muscle, sinew and phallic necks. But then I discovered the dual gender iconography of the horse and the found some comparable issues facing horses and women.  And while I have tried to treat the animal portraiture as a poppy escape from some of the more theoretical personal work, it seems my worlds have collided.

Elegant lighting enhances the sinew and muscularity in Greenberg's "Casey 01."

"Hielke 0356" by Jill Greenberg.

Restraint is explored in Jill Greenberg's untitled work in progress.

While visiting stables and riding with my daughter, I was struck by the oppressive and cruel nature of the portion of the bridle called the bit.  It is pieces of metal inserted into the horse’s mouth.  The horse is made to submit to the bit.  A horse must be BROKEN.  And I felt that the bit was like bondage, and hurtful.  Look at them.  In researching the horse bits I unearthed something quite serendipitous: the scold’s bridle.  Over in Ireland in the 1500s, men used to punish their mouthy women-folk by putting a metal cage, sometimes with a serrated tongue depressor, which would cut up the tongue if speech were attempted.  In many cases a bell, or animal ears and leash were also part of this scold’s bridle.  She could be led around town with maximal shaming.  So this scold’s bridle albeit an item from medieval times is something that goes one step further, SILENCING women.  Speech was said to be one of the main things that set humans apart from all other animals.  By taking away her power of speech, the bridle made a woman more bestial in practice as well as in theory.  Back then, not that it’s really changed, a scold was defined as: “A troublesome and angry woman who by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbors breaks the public peace, increases discord and becomes a public nuisance to the neighborhood.”  Wait that’s me?

The silent treatment.

In terms of restrictive clothing, corsets, hobble skirts paved the way, but now the modern era we have spanx and high heels.  Honestly, I find purses which require an arm and hand to hold, that can’t be slung over your shoulder freeing up both hands, to be quite restrictive.  We only have two hands.  We need them both!  By the way, I found these on vogue.com’s best-dressed list.  She can’t run, and she only has the use of one hand!  So impractical.  Fashion as oppressor.  Women will never rule the world with these constraints.

Jill Greenberg's "Glass Ceiling 2-298"

Before I began the horse book project, I had been working on a body of work that was intentionally imbued with feminist ideas: my Glass Ceiling series.  It began in 2008, during a fashion shoot with the US Olympic Synchronized Swim Team for Radar magazine.  The magazine wanted me to shoot the women under water, so it was handy that I am a certified scuba diver.  I had shot an album cover for Moby in a swimming pool and we both would just hold our breath over and over.  That was quite tiring.  These I shot while sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool, in full scuba gear:  tanks weights, regulator, two on-camera flashes on arms…I tend to make my life really difficult what with the toddlers, animals and scuba shooting, don’t you think?  Anyway, the images for the magazine were upbeat and graceful, but the images, which really excited me, were the ones I took between the official practiced and controlled formations, when one of the athletes came up for air.  When this occurred the surface of the water sliced through the neck of the woman, seeming to decapitate her, and the water above appeared like a reflective glass ceiling.

"Glass Ceiling 1-1017" complete with accessories.

It took me two years to coordinate, to find local synchronized swimmers for a second shoot.  By then the technology had advanced so I shot with the Hassleblad H2 with the Phase P65 back.  The images have a breathtaking amount of detail.  They are actually quite straight.  The major adjustments occur when I process out the Raw files.  I massively tweak the curves and white points.  In some cases I process the file out multiple times, in 16 bit of course, with varying settings and composite the images together to get an enhanced tonal and color range.  That is for you photo nerds!  I do have a bit of fun painting on the image in Photoshop, which I have used since version 1.0, for over 20 years.  Actually, I feel that my mastery of the techniques, even one might say-domination of the science, hardware and software, is a traditionally male trait and it therefore adds a layer of meaning, since I am nothing if not an incredibly technically adept photographer.  By the way, that self-flattering comment was also quite male.

"Glass Ceiling 2-462" by Jill Greenberg

So, at the root of it, these professional athletes, synchronized swimmers and dancers try to perform and pose but the water knocks them into awkward positions.  They wear high heels and bikinis for work when performing yet it is absurd.  They adjust their swimsuits and shoes, gasp for air, and are pushed around by the force of their surroundings.  Some of my favorite parts of the image are where the figure meets the surface of the water.  Recently I tried cropping out the figures altogether. Now it’s just an image of dissolved women.

"Glass Ceiling" with the woman cropped out.

The late surrealist painter Leonara Carrington, determined to be nobody's muse.

About six months ago, I was reading Deborah Bright’s essays on her own horse photography and I discovered Leonora Carrington, the last living surrealist artist.  She died just last week in Mexico at 94.  It was sad to me that though I have been in love with surrealism since I was in high school, I had not heard of her.  Carrington herself was fighting against being simply categorized as a muse for her fellow surrealists–her boyfriend was Max Ernst.  She wanted to be taken seriously as an artist in her own right.  She said, “I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse, I was too busy rebelling against my parents, and learning to become an artist”  Apparently, Miró once handed her a few coins and told her to run out and buy him a pack of cigarettes.  She said, “I gave it back and said if he wanted cigarettes, he could bloody well get them himself.”  She too, became more and more interested in the roles of femininity, patriarchal oppression and used animals, specifically horses, in her work to represent herself.

The conservative British art critic, Brian Sewell, interviewed for the UK’s Guardian newspaper said of women artists:  “The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank.  There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness.  Women make up 50 percent or more of classes at art school.  Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s.  Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”  Jonathan Jones in the same publication: “it’s not that great women artists do not exist.  It is that men are very good at finding new reasons to underrate them.”  Jones continued, “We didn’t rule the world for millennia without being pretty ingenious when it comes to preserving our territory.”  I discovered that in my two bodies of work the horses, were controlled by the bit and bridle, and women were controlled by the weight of the water.  The opaque and seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling and high-heeled shoes which immobilize them-the signifiers that surround and infect our minds and bodies, were not two disparate series;  they overlapped, joined at the bridle.  I feel that high-heels are like the horse bit and bridle.

Bit and Glass Shoe by Jill Greenberg

I recently had some heels cast in glass.   This is my first sculpture work since college.  Here’s some work I did back then, I made all these disgusting little clay men, painted them and set up vignettes and photographed them.  They were unfired clay so they didn’t survive, except this one.  This is a man I made who had no arms or legs. And he rocks and is trying to give himself a blowjob.  One side of his face is sad and one is angry.  His stump legs and penis broke off.  But I still think it’s hilarious.

"Shock" from Jill Greenberg's "End Times" 2005

"Misinformation" from End Times, 2005

Okay, I am going to show some images of crying little girls, while I talk gender politics for a bit.  Has anyone seen Platon’s new book Power Platon? It has ninety-nine portraits of men but just four of women.  These are the international heads of state and other decision makers.  It’s not HIS fault.  The book seems great.  These are, in fact, all the people who have most of power in the world.  So lets not delude ourselves into thinking that the gender inequality problem has been solved.  Why are women’s issues a special interest group?  We are a majority of the world’s population.  The default setting for our discussions about powerful women is to cut them down, to criticize them much more harshly than we would a man.  They are nags, bitches, scolds.  I call it the Martha Stewart complex.  When she was nabbed for insider trading of a measly $50,000, she went to jail.  The Wall Street banker boys, all of them cronies on the golf links with their regulating counterparts, avoided so much as a wrist slap for derailing the world economy with their selfish and irresponsible behavior – criminal.  Meanwhile Martha still refuses to call her self a feminist.

Hitting the "Glass Ceiling"in heels.

Installation of "Glass Ceiling" at Clampart in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.

The journalist Ann Kornblut, wrote a book about the 2008 presidential run of Hillary Clinton called Notes From The Cracked Ceiling.  Kornblut doesn’t believe America is anywhere near ready to elect a woman president, possibly in 2016.  The thought that sexism is over just because so many women work is absurd.  A woman who is afraid to call herself a feminist is so misguided.  Any woman who doesn’t realize that they are standing on the backs of those who came before them, who fought for the right to vote -it took 70 years of hard work for women to get that right to vote.  And some women don’t want to identify with them?  We need to speak up for ourselves.  The fact is this: we live in a patriarchal culture.  My answer?  Expose the phallus!  I want to turn things on their head.  Since not only did I love to draw horses as a child, I loved to draw penises too.  This (image) is Pork Sword, scanned from a used gay men’s porno mag called HONCHO, that I bought on 14th Street in NYC.  This was from 1991.  Like I said, I have been doing Photoshop a REALLY long time.  Right after school, when I still thought I could pursue both fine art and commercial photography at the same time, I was doing body scans and digital drawings.  I exhibited this image in 1993 at a Brooklyn group show.

In 1993 I applied to the New York’s Whitney museum’s independent study program.  I almost got in.  I had recommendations from Peter Macgill and Andres Serrano, but I sort of suck at talking about art.  I forget people’s names.  I am fine writing about it….so I didn’t make the final cut, but that same week I got a job shooting for Sassy magazine, and shortly thereafter for Time magazine.  So, I felt my direction was chosen for me.

Back to “exposing the phallus!”  In 1999, I used a well-endowed boy toy I was dating, and I did Pork Sword 2000.  It was exhibited it in an awesome group show, at the prestigious American Fine Art Gallery.   I just think it’s hilarious, to poke and prod at the object of repression.  People, especially men, seem too insecure and afraid to look at another man’s penis.  We objectify women, visually chop up their bodies like it’s nothing and are afraid to turn the tables?

Thomas Jane of HBO's "Hung" by Jill Greenberg.

I did some animated digital art in 1997 for Razorfish’s the Nvelope art content.  It’s in SF MOMA…you can tell Hans Bellmer is an influence.  I was showing what I thought men would do if they could genetically engineer the women of their dreams.  No pesky heads, just lots and lots of orifices.  The phallus has been a recurring theme. I recently shot the star of HBO’s Hung, and as much as I try to avoid those “homage” photos since I prefer to make new iconic images.  I came up with the perfect solution on the fly.  Pun intended.  The magazine had sent me a khaki suit, which I had no idea how to use, this was to be for the RISK issue.  Then it dawned on me:  Mapplethorpe’s Man in Polyester Suit. Needless to say, I have not yet found a publication with the balls to run this picture.

Greenberg's portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger for GQ.

I just shot Arnold for a second time.  He really likes being photographed by a woman.  He requested me…and when I shot MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews for The New York Times magazine in 1998 he was obsessed with my appearance as well.  Of course, I was thinner and younger…  We know what a problem with women he has.  During Hillary’s run for presidency Matthews referred to her “scolding manner in terms of public speaking” and called her “witchy.”  The rules are different for men and women.

Let me be clear.  I am not complaining about my lot in life.  I am quite happy to be a woman.  After all, not only can I make photographs– art when I am lucky, but I can also make people (kids photos).  But in this particular case, discussing our culture it would be handy to be a feminist man, since I would not want to come off as a complaining woman.  I am merely stating facts.  Not enough people are calling attention to these glaringly asymmetrical economies of power.  This stuff really matters.  Our government is picking on women’s issues.  Planned parenthood – the US is spiraling backwards.  It’s like a time machine to the Middle Ages.  Soon we will be wearing scold’s bridles.  I should wrap this up without making any more waves, or not.

So…this Beauty Culture show.  From the brochure: Beauty Culture provides a seminal examination of photography’s role…”seminal” indeed.  The etymology of that word is semen. This show is primarily men’s images, men’s gaze, and men’s perspective, despite the stated goals.  There are 74 men but only 18 women photographers represented in this show.  Wow.  Apparently there are four times more appropriate male photographers than female.  Perhaps it is only male photographers are uniquely qualified comment on issues of women’s beauty?  The Lauren Greenfield video is really great. But when it’s not playing, this is primarily a show of men’s objectification of women.  We are purportedly discussing the twenty-first century multimedia objectification of women, the culturally sanctioned self-loathing and the attendant self-mutilation aka cosmetic surgery through a distorted lens, that is 4/5ths men!!!!  This is a space named for a woman, run by women at every level.  Yet as is made plain by the curious curation choices, sexism is truly insidious and operates on a subconscious level.

I recently shot a cover of Wired magazine of the engineer, Limor Fried.  She was the FIRST female engineer to be put on their cover in the 19 years Wired magazine has been in print. About this fact her associate said, “We are what we celebrate”.  And I feel strongly we need to celebrate more women.

Jill Greenberg’s Glass Ceiling and Horses are on exhibition through August 19, 2011 at Clampart in New York.

The beautiful feminized equine from Jill Greenberg's series "Horses."